Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

On page 64 of Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes, “[A]ny theory that cannot be shared in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate the public.”  Indeed, hooks is a woman who practices what she preaches.  One of the things that has always struck me about her work is its accessibility; the essays in Teaching to Transgress adhere to this assertion.

The book is a collection of essays about progressive education practices. Uniting the essays is a constant awareness of various forms of oppression that exist in the classroom, all analyzed through a feminist lens.

In her introduction, hooks talks about painful experiences from her child in which she mostly felt rendered invisible by the education systems in place.  These experiences continued throughout her undergraduate and graduate school years; she talks about how these experiences focused on the “banking system” of education, wherein the educator is the figure of absolute authority in the classroom, existing solely to “deposit” information in receptacles: the students.

Once becoming a teacher herself, she writes:

The first paradigm that shaped my pedagogy was the idea that the classroom should be an exciting place, never boring.  And if boredom should prevail, then pedagogical strategies were needed that would intervene, alter, even disrupt the atmosphere. (7) … To teach in varied communities not only our paradigms must shift but also the way we think, write, speak.  The engaged voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in dialogue with a world beyond itself. (11)

Continue reading “Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom”

On Chesil Beach

It’s intriguing how Ian McEwan is able to turn a single fleeting event into a short novel.  On Chesil Beach is about a couple of British newlyweds in 1962; Edward and Florence are virgins, very inexperienced when it comes to expressions of sexuality.  All of these sexual inhibitions culminate as they attempt to have sex on their wedding night.

As the couple settles into their hotel room and awkwardly while away the time until they decide to have sex, McEwan goes backwards in time to explore their past.  The two undoubtedly care for each other, but it is apparent that one major reason Edward proposed is so that they could finally have sex.  He has anxiety about his inexperience, but is eager to finally consummate their relationship.  Florence, on the other hand, has always been put off by the thought of sex.  She loves Edward and made some sexual advances toward him during their courtship, but always did so out of preconceived notions about what was required of her as a girlfriend.

I’m hesitant to say much more than that so as not to give away the ending.  I will say that the book is beautifully written; I was a little apprehensive of giving McEwan another shot after my dissapointment with Atonement.  I’ve also seen some complaints about the length of the book—it’s a little too long to be a novella, but feels too short to be a novel—but I think the length was perfect; anything longer would have been pushing it.

Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2007
Source: Library digital download
Format: Audiobook

Lord of the Flies & Little Bee

Though I was never assigned to read it in school, Sir William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is one of those books I’d always heard my (male) classmates rave about.  To this day, one of my friends claims it’s his favorite book ever.

I can see why the book would appeal so much to teen boys.  It’s a story about a plane full of young, British prep-school boys whose plane goes down; all of the adults die in the crash, and the survivors are left to fend for themselves on a nearby island.  There is a semblance of order at first, as leaders are elected and tasks are delegated.  Slowly, however, things start to fall apart.  Symbolism is rife throughout the book; it is very much a tale about the loss of innocence and the inevitability of human nature.

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel.  Golding read the novel himself (a little too slowly and drily, in my opinion).  This type of desert island/adventure genre isn’t my preference, but the book itself is well-written, if not a little dated.  Considering the events that take place, it’s easy to see the book was so popular among my middle school classmates.

Another book I listened to on audiobook was Chris Cleave’s Little Bee.  I suppose I should just say right out that I hated this book, a fact that is all the more disappointing since Cleave’s first novel, Incendiary, was so good.

The novel is about a British couple who go on vacation to Nigeria in an attempt to save their marriage.  On the beach, they encounter a young girl named Little Bee and her older sister; the two are fleeing from Nigerian soldiers after witnessing the gruesome massacre of their village.  On the beach, an event transpires that will forever tie the couple to Little Bee.

Years later Little Bee, freshly released from immigration detention in the United Kingdom, sets out to find the couple.  Her presence sets off yet another tragic chain of events in the couple’s lives.

Let me once again reiterate: I hated this book.  The characters are obnoxious and unsympathetic, the scenes drag on, and I couldn’t get past my annoyance that Cleave—a white, British male—was writing the innermost thoughts and experiences of a young, poor, Nigerian undocumented immigrant.  And though I won’t give it away, I will say that I also despised the ending.  It’s all extremely unfortunate, because Cleave is a very talented writer.

Book of Clouds

Book of Clouds is the first novel by Mexican American author Chloe Aridjis.  The book is about a Mexican woman named Tatiana who won a national language contest and was awarded a year of study in Berlin.  She stays in Berlin after her scholarship is up, living a fairly solitary life and working odd jobs to get by.  She eventually lands a job transcribing the dictations of a local historian.  Through this job, she meets other people and has the opportunity to explore the darker parts of Berlin.

Aridjis is a master at detail.  Much of the novel takes place in Tatiana’s head in the form of her observations about Berlin and its inhabitants.  She often creates narratives for the strangers and foreign areas of the city she encounters.  For instance:

With the division of the city, its public transportation system, like everything else, was cut in two…The stations became ghosts at places where the city was not neatly split and Western trains had to cross sections of the East in order to continue their journey to other destinations in the west…As for West Berliners passing through in their trains, many of them, over time, became desensitized and stopped looking out.  Others felt like Orpheus crossing the Underworld, forced to continue on a path without looking back.  It was an eerie experience, Weiss said, to travel through this hushed realm where even the lights had muted to a whisper.

Aridjis brings Berlin and its dark history to life.  What struck me most about this book was its ethereal quality; reading it is very much like walking through a fog.  It’s a very slow, quiet book that takes its time to develop, but it remains strange and amusing enough to keep the reader’s interest piqued.  I look forward to reading whatever Aridjis writes in the future.

Publisher/Year: Grove, 2009
Source: Online purchase
Format: Print

2010 Amelia Bloomer List

The Amelia Bloomer Project has released the 2010 Amelia Bloomer list of the best feminist books for readers ages birth through 18.

I’m glad to see Yes Means Yes! : visions of female sexual power & a world without rape made the list.  It’s a great book (and one I’ll be re-reading next month).  Another title that caught my eye was Mike Madrid’s Supergirls: fashion, feminism, fantasy, and the history of comic book heroines.

So.  What caught your eye?